The Kemp Legacy
SOBRANS, September 1996,
Bob Dole has
always been a hard-sell Republican, and in
picking Jack Kemp as his running mate he has finally
recognized the advantages of the soft sell. Kemp is a
salesman of ideas, his chief one being supply-side
economics, with such corollaries as enterprise zones.
The basic idea of supply-side economics is to cut
with the welfare state. Nobody denies that at some point tax
rates may get so high that they actually take in lower
revenues than lower rates would; during the 1980s the
supply-siders, led by Kemp, contended that tax rates were
already above the optimium point, so that tax cuts would
bring in more money. The taxpayer and the government would
both get richer, and Republicans would reap popularity for
tax cuts without incurring unpopularity by cutting off
peoples federal checks.
Ingenious. And after the Reagan administration
got, tax cuts, federal revenues did increase. But this isnt
the simple vindication of supply-side economics that some
conservatives assume. For one thing, the tax cuts were soon
offset by tax increases, of which Bob Dole was a chief
proponent, so its hard to say whether the cuts caused the
jump in revenues.
Moreover, federal spending increases far
revenue gains, nearly doubling during the Reagan-Bush years
(despite the myth, promulgated by both parties for opposite
reasons, that Republicans wereslashing federal spending).
Part of the supply-side vision was that
have to fight against popular entitlement programs. As the
private economy boomed, the welfare state would wither. So
Kemp and his allied didnt bestir themselves to control
spending. They were taking the path of least resistance,
while counting on an economic miracle to dispose of the hard
task of resisting socialism.
It didnt work. Congress spent and spent.
The revenue gains
only encouraged it in its worst habits. All we have to show
for supply-side economics is a monstrous federal debt.
Meanwhile, conservatives forgot their real
repealing the growth of the federal government and restoring
the constitutional limits transgressed by the New Deal and
the Great Society. Kemp has never shown the slightest sense
of constitutional principle. He gladly accepted appointment
as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under George
Bush and in that office pushed for record budgets.
If Republicans are willing to forget the
be it from the Democrats to raise the subject. The Dole-Kemp
conjunction is a guarantee that the Constitution wont be
heard from after its brief and perfunctory mention in next
years oaths of office.
Kemp talks aboutideas with a
boosters enthusiasm, but
his own ideas lack the definition and proportion of serious
thought. Its almost impossible to imagine him reading
Jefferson, Madison, or even Lincoln, let alone
Aristotle thinkers who understood the first principle of
political philosophy, which is that you cant have it both
ways. The desire to have it both ways is as typical of Kemp
as of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan, and
Bill Clinton himself.
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